Current Trends in Islamist Ideology

The Islamic State in Mozambique: The Cabo Delgado Conflict since 2021

Rwandan Counter-Terrorism Special Units and Mozambique police patrol streets in the town of Palma as Rwanda provided military assistance after the militant group Ansar al-Sunna seized critical locations in the region rich in natural gas and valuable metals, in Palma, Cabo Delgado Province, Mozambique on December 18, 2023. (Cyrile Ndegeya/Anadolu via Getty Images)
Rwandan Counter-Terrorism Special Units and Mozambique police patrol streets in the town of Palma as Rwanda provided military assistance after the militant group Ansar al-Sunna seized critical locations in the region rich in natural gas and valuable metals, in Palma, Cabo Delgado Province, Mozambique on December 18, 2023. (Cyrile Ndegeya/Anadolu via Getty Images)

Twenty Twenty-One was a decisive year in the history of the Islamic State-backed insurgency in Mozambique’s northern province of Cabo Delgado. Mozambican government forces were initially in a precarious position after suffering a series of dramatic defeats, culminating in the battle of Palma in March of that year, which brought the dire state of Mozambique’s security apparatus to the world’s attention. In July, the conflict reached a turning point as it became internationalized with troops from Rwanda and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) joining the fight. By January 2024, the insurgency had been seemingly reduced to a rump guerilla force launching raids from the bush, buoying hopes that the multinational gas projects suspended after the Palma attack could resume.

This essay examines the changing character of the conflict in Cabo Delgado since 2021. Beginning with an examination of the social, political, and ideological background of the insurgency, it proceeds to assess how insurgents have adapted their strategy as they have faced more competent and better-equipped foreign forces in the past three years. The essay also looks at each of the key actors in the conflict and analyzes their respective contribution to the degradation of Islamic State in Mozambique (ISM). We conclude by looking at the factors that are likely to influence the dynamics of the conflict in the near future. 

Background: An Islamist Insurgency in Mozambique

The first shots of the insurgency in Cabo Delgado, Mozambique’s far northeastern province bordering Tanzania, were fired in October 2017 when a group of 20 armed men attacked three police stations in Mocímboa da Praia district. Calling themselves Ansar al-Sunna (“followers of the Prophet Muhammad’s teachings”), the group killed two police officers in their attack. Also known by al-Shabaab (Arabic for “the youth,” not to be confused with the Somali militant group), the fighters’ ideology was rooted in Wahabi-inspired Islamism which had grown increasingly popular in neighboring Tanzania and across much of eastern Africa over the preceding decade.1 By the 2010s, Mocímboa da Praia had become a hotbed of radical preaching that challenged state legitimacy and encouraged violent jihad.2

The insurgency also appeared against a background of vicious poverty. In 2017, 46.1% of Mozambicans lived below the poverty line, youth unemployment stood at 41.7%, 25% were malnourished, and only 29% had access to electricity.3 The country ranked 180 out of 189 on the Human Development Index, despite sitting on a vast wealth of natural resources, especially in Cabo Delgado.4

In 2010, the third largest natural gas reserves in Africa were discovered off the coast of the town of Palma in Cabo Delgado. By 2017, the American hydrocarbon company Anadarko had drawn up plans to resettle communities that stood in the way of its prospective gas project, which was taken over in 2019 by French energy giant Total (renamed TotalEnergies in 2021).5 Cabo Delgado also contains vast deposits of lucrative minerals, such as rubies and graphite, the latter of which is an essential component in electric vehicle batteries and portable electronics. For generations, ruby mining was a way of life for informal workers from the local communities. However, the government expelled them from mining concessions in 2017, favoring multinational companies that have been accused of human rights abuses.6

Extremist preachers capitalized on widespread socio-economic frustration, turning disaffected youths to jihadist militancy. Insurgent fighters like “Jorginho,” profiled by the Mozambican Institute of Social and Economic Studies (IESE), were introduced to radical Islamist ideas by Tanzanian sheikhs while working itinerantly across Cabo Delgado. Those who knew “Jorginho” claim he wanted to escape poverty and was drawn to the insurgency by the promise of wealth, according to IESE.7 Maulana Ali Cassimo, another fighter profiled by IESE, was once active in civil society and led protests on behalf of artisanal miners but was radicalized by Tanzanian clerics and persuaded to move to Mocímboa da Praia.8

The insurgency is mostly homegrown, with fighters drawn largely from the northern districts of Mocímboa da Praia, Palma, and Macomia, but is bolstered by some foreign elements from Tanzania, Kenya, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and other countries across central and southern Africa.9 The leadership structure is obscure, but one of its most notorious commanders was Bonomade Machude Omar, also known as Ibn Omar, a native of Mocímboa da Praia who was identified as the insurgency’s operational leader by the United States government in August 2021. He was killed fighting Mozambican security forces in August 2023, and it is not clear who is currently commanding operations.10 Another key figure was the Tanzanian Abu Yassir Hassan who was forced to retire following a car accident in early 2023, according to a U.S. government report.11

Ansar al-Sunna formally affiliated with the Islamic State Central African Province (ISCAP) in June 2019, expanding the financial and technical resources available to the Mozambican group. The United Nations (UN) reported in 2021 that the Islamic State’s al-Karrar office in Somalia was coordinating operations in Mozambique but did not confirm specific details.12 There is also evidence that the Islamic State (IS) has overseen the transfer of money to insurgents in Mozambique via runners in Uganda and Tanzania.13 From June 2019, ISCAP also began claiming responsibility for insurgent attacks in Mozambique via social media. In May 2022, Islamic State Mozambique (ISM) was designated a distinct province of IS. The reasons behind this are unclear but it followed the detachment of IS Sahel from IS West Africa Province in March, suggesting a general reorganization of the IS structure, perhaps to give the illusion that it was expanding its territory.14

Much is still unknown about the practical relationship between ISM and the IS senior leadership. Originally, IS social media channels were often slow to report events in Mozambique, suggesting there was limited communication between fighters on the ground and the central coordinators, but this has improved over time. By the end of 2023, attribution claims for attacks in Mozambique were usually published within two days. When IS spokesperson Abu Hudhayfah al-Ansari declared a global offensive dubbed the “kill them where you find them” campaign on January 4, 2024, ostensibly to avenge the deaths of Muslims in Gaza, it prompted ISM to launch coordinated attacks across three districts of Cabo Delgado. This implies a closer relationship between Mozambican insurgents and IS chiefs than was previously thought.

ISM’s political objectives have always been obscure. Its affiliation with IS would suggest that its goal is to establish a caliphate (a traditional Islamic state) and its social media output invokes the language of holy war against the “crusader Christian” army of Mozambique. However, while insurgents have always claimed to target Christians, many Muslims have been killed throughout the conflict, which has resulted in the displacement of over a million people since 2017.15 Whole swathes of the province have been deserted, especially in the northern districts, undermining any possibility of creating a viable political alternative to the Mozambican government. ISM has rarely made any serious attempt to establish a practical Islamic state. Even during its year-long occupation of Mocímboa da Praia from August 2020 to August 2021, it was not feasible to impose Islamic government as the entire population had fled the town. 

Key Developments since 2021

By the start of 2021, insurgents had established effective control over large sections of the N380 and N381 highways, which connect much of the north of the district, including the towns of Mueda, Mocímboa da Praia, and Palma to the provincial capital, Pemba. Over the prior year, in a humiliation for the Mozambican Defense and Security Forces (FDS), insurgents managed to briefly capture several district headquarters, specifically Quissanga, Muidumbe, and Macomia, before occupying Mocímboa da Praia town in August 2020. They were not expelled from there until the following August when the Rwanda Security Forces (RSF) launched its intervention in Cabo Delgado.16

The insurgency arguably reached its high-water mark in March 2021, when around 300 fighters staged a devastating attack on Palma, adjacent to the TotalEnergies-led $20bn liquefied natural gas (LNG) project. Up to 1,193 people may have been killed in the attack—either shot, beheaded, or drowned in the sea while attempting to flee—according to a survey conducted by British journalist Alex Perry.17

The Palma attack drew the attention of international media, in large part because of its proximity to the LNG project, which was suspended indefinitely after TotalEnergies declared “force majeure.” In the wake of the disaster, Rwanda and the SADC agreed to send forces to Cabo Delgado, which began arriving in July 2021. The RSF, initially consisting of 700 soldiers and 300 policemen, were deployed to the districts of Palma and Mocímboa da Praia while the Southern African Development Community Mission in Mozambique (SAMIM) was responsible for the districts of Nangade, Mueda, Macomia, and Muidumbe.18

The RSF were sent straight into combat, fighting 22 recorded battles with insurgents in July 2021 alone.19 By the end of August 2021, they had forced insurgents out of Mocímboa da Praia town and their stronghold in nearby Mbau.20SAMIM took longer to deploy and did not effectively coordinate with Rwandan forces, allowing insurgents to disperse into smaller fighting groups across the province, opening a new phase in the strategic dynamics of the conflict. 

Throughout 2022, insurgents avoided large-scale assaults on major towns and focused on small hit-and-run raids across a broad front, mainly targeting undefended villages and military outposts. Despite being driven into the bush, the insurgency remained active, engaging in a total of 437 violent incidents in 2022, compared to 432 the year before, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED).21

In October 2022, insurgents mustered forces for an offensive deep into the south of Cabo Delgado, attacking districts such as Namumo, Balama, and Montepuez, which had been largely untouched by the conflict up to that point. Insurgents even crossed the Lúrio river to strike villages in neighboring Nampula province to the south of Cabo Delgado. Meanwhile, insurgents sustained activity in Nangade district on the Tanzanian border and even beheaded two people on the Tanzanian side of the border, forcing security forces to split their attention between the northern and southern extremities of Cabo Delgado. This suggests a sophisticated level of coordination behind the insurgents’ strategy.22

However, by the end of 2022, counterinsurgency operations had seriously eroded ISM’s manpower. A report to the UN Security Council in February 2023 estimated that the insurgency was reduced to just 280 active male fighters, down from between 2,500 and 3,000 prior to July 2021.23

With diminished offensive capability, the insurgency adjusted its tactics once again. 2023 proved to be one of the quietest years of the conflict, with insurgents averaging only 11 incidents of violence per month, compared to 36 per month in 2022.24 Instead, insurgents sought to win “hearts and minds,” visiting communities along the Macomia and Mocímboa da Praia coast to trade goods and assure civilians that they meant no harm, albeit with the threat of violence for non-cooperation.25

This change of approach followed an unconfirmed report by the Center for Investigative Journalism in Mozambique, which claimed that ISM commander Bonomade Machude Omar had been ordered by IS chiefs in the summer of 2022 to stop killing excessive numbers of civilians and start collecting taxes from local communities instead. This was presumably to bring ISM into line with other IS affiliates such as IS West Africa Province in Nigeria, which presented itself as an alternative form of order to the government.26Although IS affiliates are renowned for extreme violence, terrorizing the population out of Cabo Delgado was undermining efforts to establish a functioning caliphate, which was the ultimate goal of IS senior leadership.

In October 2022, ISM began leaving handwritten notes urging communities to cooperate with insurgents and ordering Christians and Jews to convert or pay jizya—a tax historically imposed on non-Muslims in Islamic societies.27 This messaging, which appeared to suggest that ISM was trying to adopt the trappings of a caliphate, was novel as it had rarely made any attempts to communicate any specific demands or objectives before. However, it was also superficial as ISM did not appear to make any effort to actually collect this tax. The insurgency was too weak to capture and hold territory, let alone govern it, so it remained limited to its role as a guerilla force, harassing security forces and attacking undefended villages.

However, the “kill them where you find them” campaign in January 2024 demonstrated that ISM was still capable of carrying out surprise offensives. ISM attacked several villages all the way along the N380 highway between Macomia district and Mocímboa da Praia, constituting some 90 kilometers in total. On January 21, insurgents took control of Mucojo on the Macomia coast, where they imposed dress codes and banned alcohol, marking its most overt effort to enforce shari’ah (Islamic law) to date.28 However, the village was recaptured by security forces in less than two weeks, but, coupled with several other ISM attacks, it nonetheless contributed to a new wave of displacement in southern Cabo Delgado.29

Conflict Actors

Despite the occasional surge of attacks, ISM is no longer able to marshal the forces for large assaults on major settlements. This has substantially altered the nature of the conflict, as it has compelled insurgents to focus its attacks on soft targets, while trying to cooperate with local communities. In order to understand why the insurgency’s fortunes have changed, it is necessary to analyze how each of the military actors in Cabo Delgado have shaped the conflict. 

Since July 2021, the Rwandans and SAMIM have joined Mozambican security forces and the local militia, known as the Local Force (Força Local), in combatting ISM. As we shall see, Mozambican forces have remained largely ineffective throughout this period, despite European Union training and equipment. The SAMIM deployment was also flawed, lacking vital operational resources, but it at least provided manpower to help patrol and secure the expanse of Cabo Delgado. The RSF, benefitting from superior equipment, training, and discipline, have made the most effective contribution to the fight against ISM.

Mozambican security forces

Until July 2021, the Mozambican Defense and Security Forces (FDS) were the only professional military forces facing the insurgency. Consisting of the Mozambican Armed Defense Forces (FADM) and the police Rapid Intervention Unit (UIR), they have been frequently hamstrung by poor training, equipment, and leadership.30 There are regular reports of FDS troops abandoning their positions, sometimes even before ISM attacks.31 During the battle of Palma, the army was decisively routed, with some soldiers stealing civilian boats to flee the insurgent assault.32 Often soldiers are deployed with insufficient ammunition and food.33

In 2019, the FDS were so weak that Mozambique contracted the Russian mercenary Wagner Group to help fight ISM, but they also proved ineffective. Wagner was unprepared for jungle warfare and fell prey to insurgent ambushes.34 They were replaced by the South African private military contractor Dyck Advisory Group (DAG), which remained active until its contract expired in April 2021. The FDS have still played an active role in counter-insurgency operations since the arrival of intervention forces, but the rank and file of the infantry continues to suffer from supply issues and poor discipline. Drunkenness, for example, appears to be a major problem among Mozambican forces. In May 2023, a military water tanker crashed through a market in Macomia district, killing two people, while the driver was allegedly under the influence of alcohol.35 Intoxicated soldiers have also been known to wantonly assault or even shoot civilians.36 Even the Minister of the Interior, Arsénia Massingue, openly criticized members of the UIR in June 2022 for drinking too much and refusing to hold their positions.37

There is also evidence to suggest that corrupt FDS soldiers are passing information onto the insurgents themselves. In the same speech condemning alcohol abuse among the UIR, Massingue accused members of the security forces of informing insurgents of troop movements.38 The insurgents have consistently demonstrated an uncanny ability to locate and surprise FDS outposts.39 In August 2023, a convoy transporting the head of the army, Major General Tiago Nampelo, was ambushed and, though he survived, it seems likely that insurgents knew of his whereabouts and deliberately targeted him.40

Starting in September 2022, the European Union Training Mission in Mozambique, led by Portugal, trained around 1,100 members of a new Mozambican special forces unit called the Quick Reaction Force (QRF). This force has also benefited from the EU’s €89 million ($97 million) non-lethal aid package, including vehicles, boats, communication equipment, and military gear. The EU mission is set to expire in September 2024, but Portugal is seeking an extension.41

The QRF has already participated in operations alongside SAMIM troops, mainly around the coast of Macomia and Mocímboa da Praia, where insurgents were particularly active in 2023. The QRF performance is difficult to definitively evaluate but it appears to have yielded mixed results so far. On the one hand, the coastal operations, dubbed “Golpe Duro,” appeared to yield some success in October 2023 as insurgents were observed withdrawing into Quissanga district.42 However, during the operation, the QRF suffered a humiliating ambush in which eight of its members were killed and photos of their bodies were circulated online by IS propagandists.43

Rwandan intervention in Cabo Delgado

The integration of the RSF into the districts of Palma and Mocímboa da Praia from July 2021 was relatively smooth as Rwandan troops could speak Swahili, the lingua franca in the coastal areas of northern Cabo Delgado. This enabled the RSF to win significant community trust, unlike the Portuguese-speaking Mozambican FDS, who are largely drawn from the south of the country and who have been implicated in various human rights abuses against civilians in the province.44 In cases of abuse, the local community often appeals to the RSF rather than Mozambican authorities.45

The security environment created by the Rwandan presence in Palma and Mocímboa da Praia has completely changed the local dynamics of the conflict. Thousands of people who had been displaced in other parts of Cabo Delgado have returned to these districts, along with trade, agriculture, and fishing activities.46 By January 2023, commercial life in Palma had resumed, with bustling markets selling fresh local produce, while most buildings destroyed in the attack almost two years before had been restored.47

The explanation for the RSF’s success on the battlefield, even without the support of airpower and artillery, lies in its effective use of direct fire, armored columns, and dismounted infantry, which contrasts with the generally ill-equipped and poorly trained Mozambican forces.48 In addition, the RSF were offensive rather than reactive from the start. This approach forced the insurgents to retreat into the bush or south of Mocímboa da Praia, where they became easy targets. The Rwandan force grew over time to reach 2,500 troops. In April 2022, the Rwandans took part in joint operations with SAMIM and Mozambican security forces in Macomia, an area under SAMIM responsibility.49 In December 2023, Rwanda extended its area of defense responsibility to Ancuabe district in the south of Cabo Delgado, close to the province’s graphite and ruby mining operations.50FADM and the Local Force were insufficient to protect this front, and the fact that this responsibility was given to the RSF, rather than SAMIM, was an indication of its superior capabilities. 

However, the insurgent “kill them where you find them” campaign along the N380 highway beginning on January 4, 2024 undermined some confidence in the Rwandans. Attacks reached within 5 kilometers of Mocímboa da Praia town, sparking panic among the local population and prompting the RSF to block the roads to prevent civilians from fleeing en masse.51 Some civilians complained that the Rwandan troops now just react to attacks and are no longer an offensive force.52

Rwanda is ready to expand its area of responsibility as SAMIM is expected to leave in July 2024.53 However, this will pose several challenges. If the current deployment is stretched much further, it could become slow to respond to incidents in the vast province of Cabo Delgado. If it increases the size of its forces, it will incur additional costs. Rwanda is likely seeking a return on investment by expanding its economic interests in Mozambique, with Rwandan security and construction companies already winning numerous contracts in Cabo Delgado since the start of the intervention.54If Rwanda commits more troops and resources to fight ISM, it may push for a greater material reward to make the mission worthwhile.

Southern African Development Community Mission in Mozambique

The SAMIM force consists of 1,900 personnel with units from eight countries, including detachments from Botswana, Lesotho, Tanzania, and South Africa. Combat group Bravo, hailing from the 4th Infantry battalion of the South African National Defense Force (SANDF), has a sizable contingent of 1,495 stationed at the Mihluri base on the outskirts of Macomia.

SAMIM has never possessed close air support capabilities to support ground operations. Although the South African navy frigate SAS Spioenkop was deployed from August 2021 to May 2022,55 SAMIM has struggled to monitor the coast and surrounding islands, which insurgents have traditionally used for hideouts and supply routes that they reach by small boats.56

While SAMIM participated in major operations, principally in the central Cabo Delgado’s Catupa forest, around the Macomia coast, and along the N380 highway to Mueda, a leaked document from a meeting of SADC leaders in July 2023 reveals that the Mozambicans took a rather contemptuous view of SAMIM’s effort. The government of Mozambique accused SAMIM of lacking initiative, reporting that “troops do not disembark from vehicles and helicopters” and that their activities “are limited to village/district headquarters, as opposed to conducting in-depth operations in areas where terrorists hide.”57

A SADC “field assessment mission” (FAM) in June 2023, tasked with delivering a view on renewing the SAMIM mandate, reported that SAMIM lacked “critical combat capabilities” as well as financial resources, noting that almost $5 million of the reserve and contingency funds had to be spent to cover the arrears of several member states with the mission. The FAM also criticized Mozambique for failing to provide adequate office space, adding that the head of mission was still working out of his hotel room.58

Perhaps in light of these challenges, the SADC took the decision to end its mission by July 2024, according to the document. This decision still has not been publicly confirmed by SADC, but in December 2023, President Dr. Mokgweetsi E.K Masisi of Botswana told assembled troops in Cabo Delgado that SAMIM “should have every reason to come to an end” by July.59

In addition to the Tanzanian forces operating under the SAMIM banner, there are approximately 300 troops of the Tanzania People’s Defence Force (TPDF) based in the Nangade district of northern Cabo Delgado. They operate under a separate bilateral arrangement between Mozambique and Tanzania, guarding infiltration routes across the Rovuma River. This force was set to draw down in November 2023, but it is not clear if that has begun. Although insurgent activity in Nangade in 2023 was minimal, residents were nervous about the prospect of the withdrawal of security forces, with community leaders telling SAMIM commanders in May that SADC troops should stay until civilians have returned to their villages and freedom of movement is restored.60

Local Force (Força Local)

The emergence of the Local Force (Força Local) as a key player in counter-insurgency efforts began in 2018. The force entered the conflict in response to the poor capacity of the FDS to protect towns and villages from insurgent attacks.61 The Local Force functions as a militia comprised of civilians from the community, but most of its members are veterans of Mozambique's liberation struggle and their descendants. Civilians were one of the main targets of the insurgents from the early days of the conflict and their vulnerability was compounded by ineffective security and a lock of local geographical knowledge from the FDS. Civilians put pressure on the government to create a local militia that was more defensive and could secure villages and towns as well as patrol the bush.62 The ruling Frelimo party, which led the struggle for Mozambican independence during the Cold War, was eager to sponsor the Local Force and provided the militias with uniforms and weapons, including G3 and AKM assault rifles, from early 2020 onward.63

The Local Force set up its command on the Mueda plateau and established its militias in the districts of Mueda, Nangade, and Muidumbe. As the group began to influence the conflict, it expanded into other districts affected by the insurgency, notably Macomia, Mocímboa da Praia, Palma, and Meluco. When foreign troops arrived in July 2021, the Local Force provided valuable intelligence support in the battle for key positions, such as Mocímboa da Praia district headquarters. 

The Local Force militias were initially an arm of Frelimo, rather than the state, but in April 2023 they were formally incorporated into the Mozambican Armed Defense Forces (FADM).64 This meant that they now operate under FADM’s authority, receive official state support—including salaries for its members—and can be mobilized or demobilized by the Ministry of Defence. Previously, there was almost no government oversight of the Local Force, and it was technically an unconstitutional body.65

There is a separate, distinct local militia known as the Naparama, meaning “irresistible force” in the local Makua language.66 The group emerged in November 2022 during the insurgent offensive in the south of Cabo Delgado, basing itself on a militia of the same name that fought alongside Frelimo during the Mozambican Civil War in the 1980s in the provinces of Nampula and Zambezia. Today, the Naparama militias operate mainly in the districts of Balama and Namuno in Cabo Delgado. Unlike the Local Forces, the Naparama use traditional weapons rather than firearms and believe that taking a potion will make them immune to bullets. In February 2023, around 15 Naparamas were killed after clashes with insurgents in the Meluco district of Cabo Delgado.67 Both the Naparama and the Local Force support FDS in the counter-insurgency efforts in Cabo Delgado.68

In the first three years of the conflict, there were few recorded incidents related to the Local Force, as its nature was to react to insurgent incursions rather than go on the offensive.69 Between 2018 and 2020, ACLED recorded 13 events of violence involving the Local Force. It became more offensive from July 2021 onward as it supported troops from Rwanda and SAMIM, with 30 incidents of violence recorded in 2021 and around 40 in 2022. From 2022, as the number of violent incidents in Cabo Delgado decreased, the involvement of the Local Force in the conflict diminished.70

Conclusion: Cabo Delgado’s Uncertain Future

Since 2021, the Rwandans have clearly had the most decisive impact on the conflict, spearheading operations to secure Palma and Mocímboa da Praia districts while killing large numbers of insurgents in the process. SAMIM has played a largely defensive role, to the frustration of the Mozambican government, but its presence has still freed overstretched FADM troops to take on a more offensive role. However, Mozambican security forces have so far failed to land a critical blow on ISM. The scattered and atomized nature of the insurgency post-2021 has complicated military efforts, but FADM has been consistently undermined by poor discipline and equipment shortages. The Local Force has helped mitigate some of these deficiencies by protecting communities beyond the reach of the professional security forces, but it does not have the capabilities to take offensive action on its own. 

The development that has perhaps the most serious potential to alter the military balance of power in the conflict in the near future is the withdrawal of SAMIM in July 2024. While SAMIM forces have had a mixed record in Cabo Delgado, the loss of almost 2,000 troops risks creating a security vacuum which insurgents could exploit, especially in Macomia, where SAMIM is concentrated and much of the current fighting is taking place. The end of SAMIM would mean the FDS would have to take on a much larger share of the security burden, but critical issues with supply, discipline, and morale remain. The training of the QRF by the EU was supposed to prepare Mozambique for independent security operations, but the unit is yet to be rigorously tested in battle. 

The return of the TotalEnergies-led LNG project to Palma, which appears increasingly likely, may also influence the course of the conflict.71 Although every effort will surely be made to protect the perimeter of the project and avoid another catastrophe like the March 2021 Palma attack, insurgents have demonstrated that they can cause significant economic disruption with only a small band of fighters. In June 2022, several mining companies suspended operations as the insurgents moved south, threatening the N1/N14 highway which connects Pemba to the mining concessions in the districts of Ancuabe, Montepuez and Balama.72 The January 2024 campaign that involved attacking the length of the N380 highway to Mocímboa da Praia may have been undertaken by insurgents to demonstrate a continued capability to threaten the viability of gas projects. A full restart of LNG operations is likely to create a target that insurgents will not be able to resist. If both SAMIM withdraws and the LNG project returns, the RSF risks being overstretched as it will have to commit troops to cover both areas of responsibility.

Finally, Cabo Delgado is still grappling with the humanitarian consequences of six years of conflict. Over 600,000 people remain displaced and dependent on aid for survival.73 Humanitarian funding, however, faces drastic cuts as the attention of international donors is preoccupied by higher profile emergencies, such as the war in Ukraine. If additional funds are not procured, aid agencies will be forced to cut food provisions for up to 850,000 people.74 Furthermore, much critical infrastructure, such as schools and health clinics, has yet to be rebuilt, despite over 570,000 displaced people having returned home under government encouragement. Humanitarian organizations have warned that the combination of poverty and a lack of opportunities could expose young people to radicalization.75 Given the role that inequality played in the origins of the conflict, this risk ought to be taken seriously.